Handcrafted Code: The Device Paradigm and Implications for Developers*
The Technological Age has seen the reshaping of the physical and social realities of our world like no other. Since the dawn of the Enlightenment, modern technology (before it even existed) has been heralded as our salvation from a variety of evils (disease, starvation, burdensome labor, boredom, etc...). The philosophy of technology seeks to understand this trend and the relation of technology to science, culture, and nature.
The philosophy of technology raises questions about the essence of technology (is it a contentless tool, used ambivalently for good or bad purposes, or is it a force in its own right, inevitably guiding us towards singularity or annihilation?) and encourages taking a critical stance towards the gadgets which constantly accompany us.
The philosopher Albert Borgmann elucidates the concept of technology through the notion of the Device Paradigm, and thus brings to light striking patterns in the history of the birth and growth of modern technology. His conclusions are comprehensive, but leave out implications for people like us who are responsible for the “magic” of technology as experienced by our users and customers. What is the status of the developer? Are we more like pre-Industrial master craftsmen, hand-shaping remarkable tools and implements, or are we more like their successors, the assembly line workers whose efficiency began to erode long-standing guilds and trades?
I believe the Device Paradigm proves an engaging conversation partner for an exploration of these ideas, and suggests several implications for the future of development, and what it means to be a student of the art of programming.
My backgrounds in academic philosophy as well as technology lend themselves to a strong interest in the philosophy of technology. I have been inspired by Albert Borgmann’s take on this subject, particularly his paradigmatic explanation of technology through the concept of the device.
My current free-time project is to blog through his book (Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life) chapter-by-chapter to make it more accessible to a non-philosophical audience. In doing so I have wondered often about the status of developers like myself, who seem to occupy a strange position in the technological ecosystem—we create technological devices, and yet seem to find the same kind of satisfaction in skill and engagement that pre-technological craftspersons did, and whose satisfaction was by and large removed by the technologization of work. In this talk I will explore these themes and try to open a (perhaps quite polarizing) discussion of the place of technology in our lives and of programming in the history of technology.
I have given several talks on theoretical and computational syntax at academic conferences on linguistics, but not on philosophy or technology. This would be my first public foray into a very interesting subject area.
Jonathan went to college intending to become a computer scientist and somehow ended up with two degrees in philosophy instead. Nonetheless, after graduating, he found himself putting logic to use in code, since it turned out that was more profitable than pontificating on various subjects.
Since then he’s worked as a freelance developer, started several companies (Backlight.org, Comendi), and got a second masters in linguistics. A year ago he joined Sauce Labs as a Senior Developer, where he has the opportunity to contribute to open source projects like Appium, Wd.js, Sausage, and PHPUnit.
Jonathan enjoys living in this intersection of philosophy, technology, culture, and the day-to-day work of a developer. There’s a lot here to chew on for developers, particularly in the philosophy of technology, and Jonathan is trying to start conversations about what technology means, as we’re all together figuring out what we can do with it.